Free Study Guide for Black Like Me by John Howard Griffin BookNotes|
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BLACK LIKE ME - FREE ONLINE STUDY NOTES / ANALYSIS
The book is
an autobiographical diary. It is written in the first person and recounts the
experiences of the author, first hand. Hence the language is very vivid and moving.
The author powerfully etches not just his dramatic transformation into a Negro
to his very entrails, but also the dim and dismal, yet raucous and boisterous,
as well as courteous and generous world of the Negro ghetto.
through equally powerful strokes of his pen, he also sketches the elegant and
affluent world of the white man, which is also very cruel and hateful, lustful
and criminal. His description of Nature and the environment is very memorable.
SYMBOLISM / IMAGERY / SYMBOLS
book begins with symbolism, as the author depicts the tender night as symbolic
of the blackness as also the tenderness of the Negro. He quotes the words of a
poem to describe these qualities: --
"Night coming tenderly
Black Like me."
IMAGERY / SYMBOLISM
The book is rich
in imagery. The reader can almost hear the sounds, shouts and songs of life in
the black ghetto -- the music from the juke box, with its grinding rhythm, echoing
down the street -- music which consumes in its loud rhythm all other rhythms,
even that of the heartbeat. Music to drown the sorrows.
Then there is
the vivid, visual imagery of life in the affluent white section of town. The author’s
description of his Last Supper as a white man, before his transformation into
a Negro is unforgettable. How he dines in style for the last time in a superb
courtyard under the stars, with lanterns, trees, candle lit tables and a little
fountain, surrounded by elegant waiters, elegant people and elegant food.
Another powerful image is that of the monastery the author visits, where he feels
the very crust of his life fall away in the deep hush of eternity. He sharply
sketches the deep peace and quiet inside, in contrast to the violence and terror
The book ends with a powerful image as well. The author is clearing
up his office before he leaves for Mexico. He not only describes his barren, empty
office stripped of all its furniture and contents, but the scene also reflects
his own emptiness.
The book is filled
with innumerable contrasts the author encounters and experiences, especially as
he zigzags between being black and white. When he is a Negro he is scorned or
ignored by the whites, but warmly welcomed by the blacks. Meanwhile, when he is
white he is avoided by the blacks but kindly received by the whites. There are
even contrasts during the course of one day or night, when in the same skin. One
moment the author meets a rabid white racist and the next minute a sensitive one.
Another time he meets a friendly Negro and a moment later a
fearful one. Then there are contrasts in the scenes as well; from the din and
clutter of the gutter and ghetto to the quiet and peace of a church, from the
violence of the night to the silence of the monastery.
There is quite some humor in the book, even though the context of
the book is very deep and serious. Sometimes the humor is almost black humor as
the trials and both whites and even blacks with a sense of humor laugh at tribulations
of the blacks.
One such piece of humor is when East recounts how a black
man who goes to register himself as a voter is asked such ludicrous questions
by a white interviewer that he is denied registration. Another example is when
the author asks a Negro acquaintance where he can find a church and toilet and
he is told that most times he will find himself in church praying to find a toilet.
1. Why has the author titled his book, Black Like Me"?
2. Do you think the book deserved the 1962 Saturday Review Award?
3. The book is a moving and troubling autobiography. Explain.
4. The book is a blunt and brilliant report on white racism. Discuss.
5. The book’s depiction of the Negroes is inspirational. Explain.
6. The author meets many sensitive and sensible whites. Discuss.
7. Do you consider the book a hopeless tragedy? Discuss.
8. Describe the historical and political period of the book.
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